Voting by mail is great for so many reasons. You're safely social distanced, you have time to think about your choices, and you don't have to deal with any of the scheduling or transportation hassles that come with voting in-person. Plus, no lines!

But, the process of filling out an absentee ballot can feel confusing—especially if it's your first time—and there is a high rate of error. You have to be extra careful when filling out and completing your ballot so that you make sure your vote is counted.

Here's what to focus on:

✍️ Filling out your ballot + envelope correctly

📬 Returning your ballot well ahead of time

🔍 Following up on your ballot's status

Take the extra minute to read the instructions carefully and reach out if you need help! Don't risk doing all the work of requesting, completing and returning your ballot—only to have it not counted.

✍️ Filling out your ballot + envelope correctly

Double check the instructions and follow them carefully

  • Make sure to follow instructions for things like what color ink to use and how to fill out the fields. If it asks for bubbles, don't use a checkmark or X. This is not the time to let your creativity shine!
  • A few states require a notary or witness signature for returning your ballot. (And some that usually have this requirement are waiving it due to COVID-19). Plan ahead if you need to meet this requirement, and ask for help if you're not sure.

Pay attention to the envelope, too

  • You must return your ballot in the official envelope that's provided to you, not your own. If the ballot was sent with two envelopes—an inner and outer—you must submit it back with bot.
  • You also need to sign and date the outside of the envelope. Not having a signature on the outside is a big reason ballots are rejected, so double check this!

And, the way you sign your name matters

  • You know that scribble signature you do when quickly closing out a receipt? That doesn't belong here. Grab your driver's license (or other ID with a signature that the state has on file) and put it next to you while signing your ballot.
  • Why? Local election offices will compare your signature to other versions of your signature they may have on file—such as one from the DMV, or your voter registration form. If they don't think it matches, your ballot could be rejected. Sign carefully using your "official signature" that matches the one the state already has.

📬 Returning your ballot well ahead of time

Plan to mail back the ballot way ahead of the deadline​

  • It's human nature to procrastinate but don't turn mailing back your ballot into starting your essay the night before its due. Don't wait until the state deadline to send back your ballot. You'll risk your ballot not being counted because it took too long to get through the mail.
  • Some states require your ballot to arrive on Election Day—or even the day before, in a few states—to be counted. Others require your ballot to be "postmarked" (put in the mail) by November 3 but have limits on how longer after Election Day they will still be accepted. Read our explainer on "postmarked by" vs "received by" for more on the difference.
  • If it takes your ballot more than a couple days to get through the mail, it might not be counted even though you got it postmarked on the right date. Don't take that chance—get yours in the mail ASAP.
  • The USPS recommends mailing ballots back at least one week before the due date. If you can't make that deadline, dropping off your ballot in-person may be the best option. (Drop-off options vary by state.)

You may need to provide your own stamps for the ballot

  • In some states, postage is prepaid and there's no need to put a stamp on your ballot. In others, voters have to provide their own postage. Give yourself enough time to find a stamp before the day you plan to return the ballot.
  • If you need a stamp, you can buy one at the post office, grocery store, pharmacy, or bank. Just ask the cashier. Tip: if you don't typically use stamps, buy one pack and split among friends.

🔍 Following up on your ballot's status

  • Completing, signing and submitting your ballot isn't the end of your journey. You may think you did everything perfectly, but there's still a chance something will go wrong. (Hey, it's 2020.) And only 19 states will reach out to notify you if your ballot was rejected because of a signature discrepancy. That puts the responsibility on you to check in proactively to make sure it was accepted.
  • Luckily, most states have online ballot trackers. (We'll send you your state's once you confirm that you requested your absentee ballot on Motivote.) You can look up where your ballot is in the process and if anything comes up as a flag.
  • If your state doesn't have this type of tracker, you should call your local election office to ask for confirmation that your ballot was received and scanned.
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